This is the second in a three-set release (Volume 1 - Volume 3) of the six Haydn masses composed between 1802 and 1806, grand works of symphonic proportions that have been extremely well served in other quarters, but John Eliot Gardiner always has an extra thing to say about any piece of music he records. I am still an ardent fan and supporter of Sir David Willcock's ground-breaking account of the 'Nelson' Mass first issued in 1962 but Gardiner must now be a clear first choice, eclipsing even the excellent Hickox on Chandos. The recording is a shade more crisp and clear than the occasionally cavernous Hickox with Gardiner opting for fast speeds throughout and his certainly aids the thrill of the music such as the exultant opening Kyrie and the dashing Credo. Gardiner also has a fine team of soloists with the soprano voice of Donna Brown particularly outstanding. The whimsical 'Te Deum' that accompanies this 'Nelson Mass' is interesting filler and the set is being offered as two for the price of one.
In the Theresienmesse, I found Gardiner's approach slightly disconcerting. Admittedly, I have been weaned on the murky grandeur of Sir Neville Marriner's account of this great work recorded in the foggy acoustics of the Lukaskirche in Dresden> but with that extra edge of magnificence that is so characteristic of the Austro-German tradition. Sir John's smaller forces or no less involved in these mystical proceedings and the strings are quite eloquent but I still don't feel so much affinity with his occasionally cold approach. Hickox meets halfway through Marriner and Gardiner and remains the best choice in this beautiful work. Gardiner's set comes packed with influential notes from Richard Wigmore and an awful front cover! That might well decide your purchase but the Nelson Mass is indeed of the highest order.
Copyright © 2002, Gerald Fenech